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  “You died, genius,” Reesy replied. “You think it’s easy to come back to life and start running a marathon?” Birdie looked at her, incredulously. “Well, it ain’t,” she answered for her.

  “Not the first time, anyway,” Emmett added as he came back to the table with a syringe in his hand.

  “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Birdie inched away from him at the sight of the needle. “What is that? What is this?” she became anxious. “What are you people? Mad scientists or something? Am I some kind of freaky science project?”

  “Sweety,” Emmett tilted his head to the side, “Do I look mad?”

  “Madness comes in all shapes and sizes,” Birdie retorted nervously, but not without lack of wit.

  “But does it ever look this fabulous?” he turned a bit to the side, waving a hand down the length of his ensemble. Birdie noted the tailor-fitted pants and shirt beneath the white lab coat.

  “We can all see that you’re quite beautiful, Em,” Reesy rolled her eyes a bit. “Can we get back to explaining what’s going on, for the frightened little bunny rabbit?”

  “I’m not frightened,” Birdie defended. “And I’m certainly not a little bunny.”

  “Honestly, Reesy,” Emmett glanced over, “She’s already got an animal nickname.”

  “Can we please just get to where the hell it is that I am?” Birdie sternly insisted.

  Emmett and Reesy looked at her, brows raised and silent for a moment, before Emmett opened his mouth to reply, “First of all, this,” he indicated to the syringe, “Is a vitamin cocktail. You haven’t eaten, and you’re body went through a lot of trouble to repair itself. You need these until you’re completely up and running.” He injected her in the arm right below her shoulder, and she only flinched because of its suddenness. But part of her questioned herself for trusting their words. “As for where you are, honey, you may not be in Kansas, anymore—”

  “Delaware,” Reesy corrected.

  “I’m aware. It’s a figure of speech, Reesy. I swear to God, you have zero film-history knowledge.” Emmett turned his attention back to Birdie. “As I was saying, you may not be in Kansas. But you’re certainly not in the wonderful land of Oz, either.”

  “What he’s trying to tell you,” Reesy took over, “Is that you’re not in some different dimension or something. You didn’t cross over. You’re still on Earth.”

  “Well, technically under it,” Emmett elaborated. “This is Pritchard’s Island. But where you are specifically at the moment, is a very top secret underground debriefing facility.”

  “Debriefing for what?” Birdie asked.

  Emmett and Reesy shared a glance, and Reesy looked back at Birdie with a slightly raised brow, “So you’re not… completely freaked that you’re in an underground facility, a few states south of where you died?”

  “You know so much about me,” Birdie countered. “You should know that I’m not really surprised by much of anything. And you should also know that I start to get aggravated when I have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on,” the impatience was starting to show through.

  “Okay,” Reesy sighed. “But we need to start from the beginning, or it won’t make much sense.”

  “None of it does, so far,” Birdie interjected with a hint of aggravation. “So please, go on,” she narrowed her eyes.

  “You’re part of a group of second-generation subjects, labeled The Proprietors.”

  It was Birdie’s turn to raise an inquisitive brow, “Like, owners of property?”

  “In a way,” Reesy replied.

  “So… what, I die and inherit some real estate?”

  Emmett and Reesy let out a small laugh. “You don’t really inherit anything. It’s already a part of you,” she explained.

  “What’s already a part of me?”

  “Your gift,” Reesy told her.

  “What gift? I mean seriously, do I need to ask the right questions to get a straight answer around here?” she spat, incredulously.

  “I wish the gift came equipped with some manners,” Emmett said slightly under his breath, as he turned back toward the counter.

  Reesy let out a sigh as she shook her head and brushed off his comment, turning back to Birdie, “Well, it’s obvious you have the ability to come back to life.”

  “So, what… I’m a vampire? I’m immortal?”

  “Not immortal, honey,” Emmett chimed in. “Immortals can’t die. You died… and then you came back.”

  “Then, I’m a zombie?”

  “You don’t crave the taste of human flesh, do you?” Reesy asked, sarcastically. “If you do, let me know now, ’cause I’m outta here.” Emmett let out a giggle.

  “This isn’t funny,” Birdie scoffed.

  “It’s a little funny,” Reesy countered.

  “No, you’re not a zombie,” Emmett told her, coming back to the table. “You’re not a werewolf and you don’t sparkle in the sunlight. You’re a Proprietor. It’s not something you’ve heard of in a book, or saw on the big screen, because it’s not fiction; it’s real. There’s not a whole lot of you, but you’re not alone.”

  “Wait,” Birdie shook her head, as if to clear it. “You’re telling me there are more people like me?”

  “Well, we did say ‘group’. Yes,” Emmett explained. “There are something like four-hundred of us reported in the United States.”

  “Us? You mean, you…?”

  “Yeah, honey,” he replied, “We’re Proprietors, too.”

  “First generation,” Reesy supplied.

  “Not many of us left, sadly enough,” Emmett added.

  “I don’t understand,” Birdie squinted. “I thought we couldn’t die- I mean, I thought we came back to life.”

  “We can, normally,” Reesy told her. “Come back, that is. But we’ll discuss that later. Right now, I just need for you to trust us.”

  “Trust you for what?”

  “To help you to recover, for now. Then we’ll show you your new home.”

  “And then,” Emmett interjected, “We’ll introduce you to someone whose job it is to explain what’s going on. Okay?”

  Birdie’s eyes shifted around in front of her before she gave a small nod. “Guess I really don’t have that much of a choice, do I?” she thought.

  * * *

  “This is the living-quarters area,” Reesy told Birdie as she slowly led her down the corridor. Birdie’s strength was still barely present, but she was able to walk at a fairly slow pace without too much trouble.

  The hall was cramped, both in height and width for walking. Birdie surveyed the metal walls surrounding them as they walked. “This is like a submarine,” she let out a light laugh.

  “Actually, that’s exactly what it is,” Reesy told her. “A recycled, out of commission military submarine.”

  “How were you able to obtain this? Wouldn’t it be difficult, even impossible for you to get this without them noticing and trying to hunt you down?”

  “They gave it to us,” Reesy glanced at her. Birdie looked at her with a raised brow. “Who do you think is responsible for this whole thing, in the first place?” she asked, looking back up the hall again. Birdie let that mull over in her mind, remaining silent. “Here’s your room,” Reesy said, grabbing onto the steel handle and pulling it. The door opened with a clinking sound, squeaking as it turned on its hinges.

  Birdie looked inside, noting how tiny the space was. Only room for the cot on one wall, a small table with drawers, beside it, garnished with a simple lamp, and on the far wall (which consequently wasn’t very far from the cot), a small chest of drawers she assumed was for clothing.

  “This is, um… cozy,” Birdie said, narrowing her eyes as she entered. “Good thing I’m not claustrophobic.” Reesy noted that the statement almost sounded sarcastic.

  “Yeah,” Reesy let out a small laugh. “Luckily, we haven’t had that problem come up, so far.”

  Birdie turned around to face her, “Am I meant to stay here, now?” she asked,
a bit confused. “I mean, underground in this thing… forever? Is this what my life is going to be?”

  “No, honey,” Reesy shook her head, with an apologetic look on her face. “This is your rehabilitation. This is where you get your strength back, and learn what you need to do in order to go and live your new life. Think of it like witness protection; a new identity and a new home. But this is the police station where you get your orders.”

  “Yeah. I get it. I was a cop, remember?” he smiled a bit.

  “Still are,” Reesy tilted her head. “Gotta have something to do when you’re back up top, right?”

  “Right,” Birdie seemed a bit confused. But she was tired, and it had been a long day, and in all honesty she didn’t really want to get into another discussion. “Um,” she shook her head as if to clear it, “Do you… go up there when you’re done working down here for the day?”

  “Yeah,” she replied, looking away for a moment before meeting her eyes again.

  “How many of us are there? I mean, up there?”

  “On Pritchard’s Island, there are two hundred and eighty-seven of us. Well, eighty-eight, once you’re top-side,” she gave a small smile.

  “That many?” she raised her brows.

  “It’ll make more sense once you get your briefing tomorrow.”

  “Do you have a family?” she asked quickly, though it seemed Reesy was about to turn and leave. “I mean, I know how it works in witness protection. You don’t get to see your friends and family…”

  “More than that,” Reesy sighed, resigning to having to explain, though she didn’t want to be the one to do it. She crossed the small space from threshold to dresser, and hopped up to sit on its top. Birdie instinctively took a seat on the cot across from her. “Your friends and family,” she started, “They think you’re dead. To them, you died on that street; shot by a punk kid named Artie Finkle, whom, by the way, was apprehended.” She stalled for a moment, gauging Birdie’s reaction. “They attended your funeral, Birdie,” she continued, “And they’re moving on. Not only can you not see them, but you can never see them again. You can never contact them; not even subtly. You can’t leave Pritchard’s Island. Not unless you have the highest authority’s permission and have someone to accompany you. It’s not safe for you. It’s not safe for any of us if someone were to find out about us; about this place. Do you understand?”

  Though her eyes darted around somewhere in the air between them, Birdie nodded. “Yeah,” came out as almost a whisper. And then she straightened and looked Reesy in the eye. “Yes, I understand,” she said, with conviction.

  Reesy looked skeptically at the woman in front of her who seemed to be putting on a brave front. “You okay?” Birdie nodded and gave a small smile. Reesy hopped down from the dresser, “Your journals are in the bed-side table drawer. It’s all we could find that you might have wanted to bring with you. Nothing else from your old life could come.”

  “My journals?” Birdie cocked her head to the side. “How?”

  “You’d be amazed how easy it is to get to someone’s personal belongings when a family is mourning.”

  “There aren’t many left to get past,” Birdie interjected.

  “There are some clothes in the dresser; stuff to sleep in and a few things for during the day,” Reesy was quick to change the subject. “They’re nothing near fancy, but there’s really no point down here. Once you’re top-side, that’s another story. Jodie and I will take you shopping,” she smiled and headed for the door.

  “Jodie?”

  Reesy turned as she stepped over the threshold into the hall, and looked back at her. “My wife,” she smiled. “You’ll like her.”

  “Your wife?” Birdie considered, for a moment, the only two people she’d met since her waking. “Does rebirth turn you gay?”

  Reesy laughed, “Oh god. If you weren’t so adorable, I’d punch you for that.”

  “I’m sorry…” she shook her head, embarrassed.

  “It’s okay,” she smiled, then raised her brows. “Do you wanna kiss me?”

  “What? No!” Birdie looked at her, incredulously.

  Reesy shrugged, “Guess you’re not gay, then.”

  “I- I’m sorry! I didn’t mean—”

  “I was gay before I came here,” she told her. “So was Jodie and Emmett.”

  “That was such a stupid thing for me to ask. Please… can you pretend I never said it?”

  “Said what?” she smirked.

  Birdie let out a relieved sigh. “Thanks, Reesy.”

  “Goodnight, sweetie,” she said, pulling the door closed.

  Birdie listened to Reesy’s footsteps as they led away from the door, until she couldn’t hear them anymore. She looked around the small space that was her room for however long she had to stay underground. Small spaces usually made her anxious. But she’d been holed up in smaller places on stake-outs when she worked with the DEA. There was a way out, and she wasn’t alone down there. She told herself that everything was fine. As fine as it could be, anyway. The craziness of the day helped to distract her, anyway. She stood and made her way to the dresser.

  Reesy hadn’t been exaggerating when she said the clothes were nothing fancy. A robin’s egg shade of blue seemed to be the only color for everything in the drawer; even the day clothes. Ironically enough, she just then noticed that the gown she was already wearing was the very same color.

  Birdie pulled out a set of night clothes. The inexpensive cotton didn’t give her much hope in them being comfortable. But the tank top and long pants fit as though they were made just for her. After laying her discarded gown on top of the dresser, she made her way back to the cot and opened the side-table drawer.

  There sat her two journals. She hadn’t touched either of them in years. No one really knew about her journals. She’d had the first one since high school. She so rarely wrote in them. Only when something really big happened, whether good or bad, would she think to open it up and write. She was probably in her mid-twenties when she’d run out of room and had to buy another. Her last entry was when she’d made the decision to move to Dagsboro. Since then, they’d sat in a box in her closet, where keepsakes that didn’t need to be out could be kept.

  She pulled out the most recent journal and got as comfortable as she could on the cot, adjusting the pillow against the wall so that she could lean back on it. Her silver pen was where she’d left it in the middle of the book on the page she’d made her last entry. She opened to the page and grabbed the pen, preparing to make a new entry.

  March 14, 2013

  Two days ago, I died. A boy was afraid and shot me in the chest. Today, I was reborn. Either that, or this is some strange dream and I’m in a hospital bed stuck in a comfortable coma. In which case, this entry won’t even be in my journal, so there’s no reason to apologize for it.

  Shifting slightly on the cot, something fell out of the journal and into her lap. She picked up the white square of paper she knew was the back of a photo, and flipped it over. It didn’t take but a moment to realize where in the journal the picture had fallen from. It was of her and Brian, taken probably a decade ago at a family reunion. This was before drugs were even a part of his vocabulary. He looked good.

  Birdie smiled sadly, absentmindedly running a finger beside the image of his face. She still missed him every day. Looking at that picture made it all come back to her in a rush; the memories of when he’d still been alive, and the ones from that day in his apartment… finding him.

  Quickly, she stuck the photo back into the journal and closed it up, swiping a tear from her eye before it had a chance to fall. She shoved the book back into the drawer and sank down into the bed on her side, willing herself to give in to the exhaustion.

  * * *

  March 25, 2013

  This marks the end of day ten in what I’ve come to call the dungeon of Pritchard’s Island. I’ve endured plenty of boot-camps in my time. But I suppose rehabilitating from death should probably qualify a
s the toughest.

  The gaping wound that used to adorn my chest, is now just a scar. It’s only been less than two weeks since I was shot, but it’s true. Emmett says, soon I won’t be able to see it at all. It’s kind of amazing, actually. A touch frightening at the same time. Apparently death is also the fountain of youth for Proprietors.

  I learned that Proprietors were, in my own words, a mistake. Some crack scientists hired by the government in the late 1700’s were instructed to create a serum to essentially turn a man into soldier material. Like, super-soldier material, really. There was a controlled group of something like thirty men who were part of the trials. At first, they thought this scientist was a fraud, because nothing happened to the men. The guy got all crazy on them. His lab burned down with all of his work and notes, and he ended up disappearing. But I’m thinking they actually might’ve killed him.

  That aside, those men started to get killed on the battlefield. Then they’d wake up in a wooden box while being brought back to their homes for burial. That’s when the military officials decided it was necessary to hide them. There’d be no way to explain the men being brought back to life, aside from witchcraft, in which they’d end up burning them at the stake.

  Long story short, not all of the men were able to be contained. The ones who hadn’t died on the battlefield were allowed to go home. I guess they figured that they could come and collect them if they died. They didn’t get so lucky with all of them. And over the centuries, the soldiers they labeled Proprietors were able to elude the military personnel that had been ordered to keep track of them. They obviously went on to have families, their children known now as second-generation. Of course, not all of them had families right away, which explains why I was born just over thirty years ago. The fact that these people are immortal, in a manner of speaking, means they could’ve waited as long as they wanted.

  That led me to a question. Why aren’t my parents Proprietor’s? I mean it’s obvious, what with Mom having burned herself several years back and being out of work for months. And Dad being the way he is. Apparently when Proprietors living on the island decide to reproduce, the child is given to a set of foster parents so that they can live a normal life, until it’s time to come home. So I guess Kaitlyn wasn’t the only adopted kid in the family. And that’s where I stop thinking about this whole thing. My real parents are gone. No one knows where they are. I can’t pretend to be too heartbroken about being adopted. I find it strange that they never told me, though.

 
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